By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Step Up Oklahoma plan was brought to a vote on the House floor on Monday. It failed to get the supermajority three-fourths vote required by the state Constitution to pass, ending with a vote of 63-35. It could be placed on a future state ballot for a vote of the people.
The plan would have raised revenue in a variety of ways to fund $5,000 teacher pay raises and to shore up state health care services for those most in need. A portion of the money would have gone towards roads and bridges.
While it was disappointing to some that the plan failed, I’ve explained in previous columns that there were concerns by many on both sides of the political aisle with the amount of revenue sought and the sources from which it would be derived. There are some portions of the plans that still have merit, and may be brought forward in the future. Several reform measures in the plan would give us greater oversight of agency spending; these need to pass, and I believe they will.
While this plan failed, there are several smaller revenue portions that are still being explored. These include increasing the tax on alcohol as our laws have changed to allow its sale in more venues in the future; and increasing the tax on gasoline and diesel. This hasn’t been done since the 1980s, and a small increase would still keep Oklahoma below the regional average. The money would be used to replenish transportation funds and help us build and maintain safe roads and bridges in rural Oklahoma. Portions of the money raised could go to increase pay for our teachers and to support rural health care – two issues of which I have been adamant in my support. Increasing the cigarette tax is still under consideration as well.
I want to remind everyone, we are only in the second week of the legislative session. I’m optimistic that reason, common sense and rational thought will prevail at the state Capitol. I’m not giving up, and neither should anyone else.
Next week, the Board of Equalization meets to give lawmakers a clearer look at fiscal year 2019 revenue. The numbers should be in line with the improved economic picture we’ve already seen for the past year. Last week’s state treasurer’s report showed 12 of 13 months of improved revenue, with January collections of $1.1 billion topping the same month in 2017 by 15 percent and up 7.5 percent for the past year. Unemployment is down, and economic activity in the state is increasing. These are all signs for hope.
Meanwhile, the House investigation of Health Department spending and other agency audits continues in an effort to root out all abuse and mismanagement and make sure we are running at top efficiency.
I will keep you posted about the status of the state budget and other bills as the legislative session continues. Please keep a positive attitude. There is much cause to be optimistic.